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little church vs. BIG CHURCH

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With a worship service on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning Joy Church of Mt. Juliet averages a combined attendance of 1,800. That number puts the congregation at the top of the list of Wilson’s County’s largest churches. There are approximately 166 churches in the county, with six that boast an average attendance of 1,000 or more. Photo submitted
With a worship service on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning Joy Church of Mt. Juliet averages a combined attendance of 1,800. That number puts the congregation at the top of the list of Wilson’s County’s largest churches. There are approximately 166 churches in the county, with six that boast an average attendance of 1,000 or more. Photo submitted
With a worship service on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning Joy Church of Mt. Juliet averages a combined attendance of 1,800. That number puts the congregation at the top of the list of Wilson’s County’s largest churches. There are approximately 166 churches in the county, with six that boast an average attendance of 1,000 or more. Photo submitted
On a recent Sunday morning the Corinth Church of Christ had several young visitors who helped its typical attendance of 10 swell to 17. The meetinghouse of the rural congregation was erected in 1874 on Beasley’s Bend Road about 10 miles from Lebanon. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
The Lebanon Church of God Praise Group leads the congregation in song at the beginning of a Sunday morning worship service. Founded in 1903, the church averages 225 at its 10:45 a.m. service and plans to begin an 8 a.m. service April 19. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
The Lebanon Church of God Praise Group leads the congregation in song at the beginning of a Sunday morning worship service. Founded in 1903, the church averages 225 at its 10:45 a.m. service and plans to begin an 8 a.m. service April 19. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
With a worship service on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning Joy Church of Mt. Juliet averages a combined attendance of 1,800. That number puts the congregation at the top of the list of Wilson’s County’s largest churches. There are approximately 166 churches in the county, with six that boast an average attendance of 1,000 or more. Photo submitted

10 BIGGEST CHURCHES IN WILSON COUNTY

1: Joy Church, Mt. Juliet: 1,800; senior pastor Jim Frease

2: The Bridge Fellowship Church, Lebanon: 1,499; lead pastor Phil Wilson

3: Immanuel Baptist, Lebanon: 1,225; senior pastor John Hunn

4: The Glade (Baptist) Church, Gladeville: 1,215; senior pastor Bruce Grubbs

5: Hillcrest Baptist, Lebanon: 1,204; senior pastor Glenn Denton

6: Mt. Juliet Church of Christ: 1,055; pulpit minister David Shannon

7: Providence United Methodist Church, Mt. Juliet; 966, pastor Jacob Armstrong

8: College Hills Church of Christ, Lebanon: 950; preaching minister Kevin Owen

9: Friendship Community Church, Mt. Juliet: 906; senior pastor Todd Stevens

10: First Baptist Mt. Juliet: 898; senior pastor Andy Hale

(Churches were asked for their average worship attendance in 2014, not for the number of members on rolls. Nine of these congregations hold multiple worship assemblies.)

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10 BIGGEST CHURCHES IN TENNESSEE

1: New Direction Christ Church (Memphis): 10,948

2: Mount Zion Baptist Church (Nashville): 10,000

2: Temple of Deliverance (Memphis): 10,000

4: World Outreach Church (Murfreesboro): 7,926

5: Long Hollow Baptist Church (Hendersonville): 7,154

6: Hope Presbyterian Church (Cordova): 6,978

7: Bellevue Baptist Church (Cordova): 6,806

8: Brentwood Baptist Church: 5,637

9: Cross Point Church (Nashville): 5,027

10: Christ Church (Nashville): 4,500

10: Golden Gate Cathedral (Memphis): 4,500

Source: Hartford Institute for Religion Research

little church vs. BIG CHURCH

It's not a case of David vs. Goliath

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

-Matthew 18:20 (King James Version)

These words of Jesus may or may not describe how many Christian believers it takes to make a church, but Christ confirms if two or more meet in his name then He is present.

With approximately 166 churches assembling in Wilson County every weekend (not counting home churches as their numbers are not known), average congregational attendances range from a handful to a multitude. Six Wilson County churches average more than 1,000 in attendance, with Mt. Juliet's Joy Church leading the way with 1,800 gathering for worship, prayer and praise at two services.

According to statistics from the National Congregations Survey (NCS), the median American church has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings. Median church size reflects the point at which half the churches are smaller and half the churches are larger.

Meanwhile, the United States Congregation Life Survey reports the average church service draws 186 attenders, a larger number because of the influence of very large churches. The majority of worshipers attend larger churches, but the United States has a high number of very small churches.

So is bigger better when it comes to church going?

Earthly insight may not have the wisdom to answer that question, but a fair response might be that size doesn't matter as true worship hinges upon the faith of each heart. For certain there are differences when comparing a worship service of 1,000-plus to a group of 250 and even more so to a church of 25 or less.

Chad Hall, director of coaching at Western Seminary, an evangelical, non-denominational theological seminary with physical campuses in Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; Sacramento, California; and Seattle, Washington; summarizes the strengths of big churches and little churches in the following six paragraphs.

The Big Deal

Large churches often feature excellent teaching/preaching. This is not always the case (in fact, I'm constantly surprised how large a church can grow with an "okay" preaching pastor), but by and large the larger churches provide worshipers with well-crafted, accessibly-taught, and meaningful preaching.

Large churches often provide worshipers with a high-caliber worship service. I'm not going to wade into the "worship as entertainment" conversation, but I will just say that a large church can create an experience that is on a level unlike anything a small- or medium-sized church can do.

Many large-church attendees find that being part of a large church provides them a sense of being part of a movement, something larger than themselves.

Small Sensation

Small churches provide attendees a strong sense of community, as opposed to the anonymity that can be true of a large church. There's no sneaking out of a living room if you don't like what's being said. The level of engagement required to be in a house church is, well, engaging to many.

Small churches can be simple. The smaller a church, the less complexity there is in terms of administration, finances, decision-making, levels of leadership and such. And simplicity is alluring to more and more people, especially those who are disenchanted with large organizations and bureaucracies.

Small churches emphasize spiritual growth and application of Christ's teaching. Every church has an idea of what it means to "win." In most churches, winning is related to numerical growth. But house churches have to find another metric, and they usually land on personal spiritual growth and application--the church is healthy and doing well if the members are living out the faith in greater and greater ways.

The Wilson Post posed several questions to leaders of three Wilson County churches recently with the aim to share the width of personalities of a big church, a medium-sized church and a small church.

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Q&A with three pastors

In his 30th year in ministry Jim Frease is pastor and founder of Joy Church, which had its opening service Oct. 12, 2003. The church's weekend worship assemblies take place at 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday and combined draw about 1,800 souls.

Bishop A.J. Valentine has served as pastor of the Lebanon Church of God for 33 years. The congregation was begun in 1903. With an average Sunday worship attendance of 225, the church meets at 10:45 a.m. Sundays with an 8 a.m. service scheduled to start April 19.

Mike Vaughn has been preaching for 13 years, and for the past 2½ years has served as minister at the Corinth Church of Christ, established in 1874. This rural congregation of 10 or so meets at 11 a.m. Sundays about 10 miles from Lebanon on Beasley's Bend Road.

QUESTION: What do you believe is the main factor that attracts people to your church?

FREASE/Joy Church: We share this all the time at Joy Church... If you don't like organized religion, you will love Joy Church where we believe in "organized relationship." We are not about religion, we are about relationship... with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. We are not about tradition, but the liberating Word of God. And we are not about enduring life, we are about enjoying life!

At Joy Church we are committed not to telling you how bad you are, but we emphasize how good God is! We are much more about lighting a candle than cursing the darkness.

The Word of God is taught in a very practical, balanced and relevant way at Joy Church along with a great sense of humor, and we are very focused on showing the love of Jesus Christ by loving and serving our community.

When you come to Joy Church we don't want you to leave beat up but we want you to leave upbeat! We don't point our finger at you and tell you what you need to do, we tell you how!

If you have a good heart and we only tell you what to do, but not how, you will leave frustrated. If we tell you how, you will leave motivated!

VALENTINE/Church of God: Relevancy. The 21st-century parishioner is seeking a church that is spiritually and biblically sound as well as relevant. They don't mind you telling them about Daniel in the lion's den as long as you also tell them how to deal with the "lions" that they may face in life, for example. We strive to do that at LCOG. In addition, it is important that the church have ministries in operation that not only teach people "how to live" but also, reach them "where they live." Because in reality people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Our church places a significant degree of emphasis on youth ministry. We feel that this is another factor that may be attracting individuals to the church.

VAUGHN/Corinth: Based on the responses from our membership, the primary attraction they feel to our church is "to worship God." They want to please God in their worship and worship Him as He has instructed in His word. Another factor that several noted was the location of the worship place. Located approximately 10 miles outside of Lebanon, Corinth provides people a place to meet with neighbors within their own community for the purpose of worship. They talk to one another and support one another, sometimes on a daily basis. They know what is going on in each other's lives. This bond creates more of a family environment for those that attend. It gives a close sense of unity with God through Christ as His family is gathered together for worship.

Also, living directly in the community that surrounds the church, they are very aware of those that might need help or assistance, and they feel it is their responsibility to serve those in need. Almost everyone within the congregation has grown up worshiping at this church. Because of this, the church represents many good memories for them and has built a strong sense of community not only within its membership but also with those who live in the area.

Q: What do you personally enjoy best about the size of your congregation?

FREASE/Joy: A big church can make a big difference. For example we purchased a mobile kitchen not too long ago and we have fed nearly 13,000 free meals to people throughout Wilson County and into Davidson County.

VALENTINE/Church of God: It's still "manageable." Although I am relatively confident that our church will be experiencing exponential growth ahead, while the positives outweigh the negatives, I'm sure that with more growth comes more challenges.

VAUGHN/Corinth: I would have to say the closeness. I really feel like a brother to each one. We talk about spiritual things and things of life as it is now. We pray together. We have fun and laugh together. We weep together in our sadness.

Q: What are a few advantages of a big church?

FREASE/Joy: A big church can make a big difference. We can touch our entire community in a big way. Most churches are either all very old or very young, we are a multi-generational church. Most churches are either black, white or brown, we are a very multicultural church.

Q: What are a few advantages of a medium-sized church?

VALENTINE/Church of God: First, you still have the benefit of a certain degree of personal contact with the membership that does not lend itself to larger assemblies. Secondly, it's the same reason that was aforementioned; overall, it still relatively manageable to a degree. The opportunity for the pastor to have more hands-on involvement is present. It diminishes with larger congregations.

Q: What are a few advantages of a small church?

VAUGHN/Corinth: Being close to the members there. An understanding of their needs spiritually and physically to minister to them.

Q: What would be a couple of disadvantages to the size of your church?

FREASE/JOY: A big church can be an easy place to "hide." That being said, I believe the disadvantages are perceived but not actual. The great myth of the big church is that you feel like just a number. If a believer struggles with being just a number, they won't like heaven much, because there will be billions of us together in heaven!

Whether your church is 30 people or 3,000 people, you will only really know about 30 people well. The key to that is getting involved in serving groups and social groups that can make a big church seem a whole lot smaller.

VALENTINE/Church of God: Sometimes I miss the days when our congregation was smaller, because I knew everyone by name. Unfortunately, there are days now that I have what I call "senior moments" when faces are more familiar than names (laughter). In addition, many times with growth comes challenges with adequate space to accommodate the various needs associated with ministry.

VAUGHN/Corinth: Lacking the financial resources to do as much as is needed in mission work and helping others. And lacking a resource pool of people with various talents.

Q: What is your church's mission statement or main goal?

FREASE/Joy: 1: Encourages individually (Hebrews 3:13). 2: Strengthens the family (Joshua 24:15). 3: Develops servant leadership ministry (Philippians 1:25). 4: Serves the community (Matthew 25:35). 5: Reaches people internationally (Matthew 28:19).

VALENTINE/Church of God: Our mission is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, to witness to the lost about the saving and keeping power of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, to equip and empower the people of God to stand against the forces of sin and Satan, to know the depths of God's love and redemptive power to all humanity, as we expectantly await the second coming of our Savior and soon coming King.

VAUGHN/Corinth: Our main goal is to worship God as He wants at Corinth and to live daily in service to Him by helping all men as we therefore have opportunity in His name.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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